HOLLYWOOD, FLA. - If there was a theme to the opening sessions of the Bank Insurance & Securities Association’s annual conference in Florida on Sunday, it could be characterized as moderation.

The first three sessions were officially categorized as “The Macro Economic Environment.” And they were all, in various ways, studies of balance.

David Blitzer, director at Standard & Poor’s & chairman of its index committee, discussed various metrics of economic growth. (BIC interviewed Blitzer last week for a preliminary article of his comments today.) He once again used history as his guide when specifically referring to the time period from 1980 to 2000 as a time of “great moderation.”  Except for the crash in October 1987 (a “very bad day”) he said it was 20 years of “smooth sailing.”

He noted that most people use history as a guide, even if it’s subconscious. The performance of the market and health of the economy when someone first pays attention tends to frame their reference, he says. For him it was the high-inflation period of the early 1970s.

His frame of reference has gown, though, as he says the recent crisis is a pale comparison of the 1930s.

The recovery has been subpar, he says, citing a number of factors, including weak housing prices.

The second session entailed industry predictions from Jim McNeil, executive director of BISA, and Scott Stathis, managing director of BISRA, formerly Kehrer-LIMRA.

The tone of the predictions was generally optimistic; the moderation came in when looking at last year’s predictions and comparing the industry’s subsequent reality.

The top three goals of bank programs for this year were, in order: increasing advisory business, increasing cross sell ratios; and optimizing client segmentation sales initiatives.

About two-thirds of the industry predicted growth in their programs last year, but only 27% actually achieved it. Roughly the same percentage, two-thirds, again predicted growth.

And two thirds of the industry is not quite half way to their client segmentation goals.

Among products, managed money was expected to grow the most last year, which it did, just not as much as expected. About 45% of the industry expected20% of their revenues to come from fee-based accounts. Today, just 20% are at the 20% or more mark.

Stathis said the results, in total, show that the industry has work left to find the best strategies. The final stat, he said, exemplified the issues. Less than 10% of bank management teams have their personal assets managed by their programs. To be sure, a full third were “unknowns,” but Stathis said those were likely in the “no” camp.    

The third session, from Tom Ricketts, was the real study in moderation. Ricketts, chairman of the Chicago Cubs and chairman of Incapital, drew comparisons between the two business worlds he inhabits, particularly in three ways: corporate missions; hiring the right people and workplaces.

But the questions from the crowd were virtually all about baseball, which is where Ricketts’ even-handedness really showed. When asked whether he prefers night or day baseball, he said he loves day games, but the night games are better for team travel schedules and school kids. He also didn’t have a definitive preference on the designated hitter rule; he sees both arguments and thinks there just needs to be a resolution one way or the other.

And when he’s approached by fans, who, he says,  always start with their age and then ask for a World Series victory before they die, his response is always the same: “Take care of yourself and buy me some time.”

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